TIME was when cricket was a byword for fair play and sportsmanship.
It seemed to epitomise those values, particularly in England.
But now it is just like every other sport – motivated by self-interest and the financial bottom line.
The values of old have been replaced by a win-at-all-costs mentality which is so far removed from the ideological vision of its forefathers that cricket, in its own way, is no more principled than professional football.
Take the recent events at Taunton.
As you will no doubt be aware, the County Championship match between Somerset and Surrey was sullied by a shameful incident involving Murali Kartik, the Surrey and India left-arm spinner.
During the Somerset first innings, Kartik, the bowler, ran out Alex Barrow, the non-striker, because the batsman was supposedly backing up too far; Kartik had previously warned Barrow and stopped during the throes of delivery to whip off the bails.
The appeal was upheld by Gareth Batty, the Surrey captain and former Yorkshire all-rounder, and allowed to stand despite the umpires giving Surrey several chances to retract it in the interests of fair play.
I have now seen a video of this incident and the word “shameful” hardly does it justice.
Kartik is obviously in the process of delivering the ball and, as he does so, Barrow simply walks slowly and no more than a few centimetres out of his crease.
It is the natural action of a non-striker moving forward as the bowler delivers – or, in this case, does not deliver.
Unfortunately, Kartik and Batty do not appear to understand the meaning of the words “fair play” and “sportsmanship”.
Although Batty subsequently apologised, he had little choice given the uproar that followed, while the words “horse” and “stable door” spring to mind.
Kartik, meanwhile, took to the social networking site Twitter to defend himself by bleating: “Everyone get a life please.
“If a batsman is out on a stroll inspite (sic) of being warned, does that count as being in the spirit of the game.”
The answer, of course, is “no”, but two wrongs do not make a right and it is one of cricket’s unwritten rules that the bowler does not run-out the non-striker in such a manner – particularly when he is so obviously not trying to gain an advantage.
But if Kartik and Batty are the tip of the iceberg, then one does not have to look too far for other examples of poor sportsmanship in cricket.
Why, it is everywhere you look, and more often than not conveniently passed off as gamesmanship.
How many times do we see a batsman stand his ground at the crease when he has blatantly edged the ball, or a bowler appeal when he knows that the batsman has not hit the ball, and so on.
It is so commonplace now that to criticise it as bad sportsmanship is to leave oneself open to criticism instead.
Just in case anyone should accuse us of anti-Surrey bias, another all-too-common sign of the times took place during Yorkshire’s Twenty20 Cup final against Hampshire.
When Yorkshire’s David Miller turned a ball from Liam Dawson to mid-wicket, Neil McKenzie dived forward to take what seemed a clean catch fractionally off the turf only for the third umpire – as they always do in such circumstances – to find in favour of the batsman.
Miller later claimed that “it didn’t look out”, but whatever happened to taking a fielder’s word for it?
However, few batsmen nowadays would walk in such circumstances, and Miller was only doing what 99.9 per cent of players would do in his position – perhaps even McKenzie.